Starlings, house sparrows and other threatened garden birds have suffered a further decline in their numbers over the past year, new figures show.
The results from the RSPB's annual Big Garden Birdwatch (BGBW),based on half a million people counting birds in their gardens over a weekend in January, also showed an increase in the species that are not commonly seen in back gardens, such as fieldfares and jays, after a freezing start to the year drove them out of the countryside in search of food.
Numbers of starlings, a "red-listed" species of conservation concern which dropped to a record low in last year's birdwatch, declined by a further 16% this year.
House sparrows – also endangered – fell by 17% on 2012 figures, while bullfinches and dunnock numbers also fell, by 20% and 13% respectively. While green finches have declined by nearly 21% since last year.
Martin Harper, the RSPB's conservation director, said: "We know from the many people who take part in Big Garden Birdwatch every year that garden birds are incredibly precious to us and connect us to nature every day … but several of our familiar and best-loved species have been declining at alarming rates over the 34 years that the RSPB has been running the birdwatch and this year's results show a continuing decline."
The starling, famous for its winter "murmurations" involving up to hundreds of thousands of birds, has seen a steady decline in numbers since the BGBW survey began in 1979. Losses have been linked to the loss of traditional, established farming pastures, where experts believe that intensively farmed land makes it more difficult for birds to find their favourite food – the cranefly larvae that live in undisturbed soil.
House sparrows have experienced a rapid recent decline, particularly in urban and suburban environments: greater London lost seven out of 10 sparrows between 1994 and 2001. The causes remain largely unknown, with everything from cats to air pollution being blamed.
"The decline of these two species is part of a long-term trend and nothing to do with the cold weather," said RSPB spokeswoman Wendy Johnson. "Starlings have gone down 82% since we started the survey and house sparrows by 63%. Bullfinches and dunnocks haven't declined overall in the same way as sparrows, starlings and songthrushes, however they are amber-listed species and we are concerned because they have suffered declines this year and over the last few years."
As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.